“Social Media” that Works

So what kind of social media really works for display advertising?  I have 2 examples.  They’re not poke-me, friend-me, follow-me kind of apps, so perhaps some will tell me they are not “social media”.  But they are successful in a Wiki way, and have some interesting lessons to teach us, I think.

Wisdom of Crowds

Angie’s List is an interesting example using multiple revenue models.  Over 600,000 members pay (yes, pay) about $50 a year (differs by city) to belong to a community of people looking to hire the best service companies in their area.  Members post their experiences with every local company from plumbers to auto repair shops into a database searchable by anyone who is a member.  Companies are graded and ranked by their performance, with testimonials (no, make that UGC) posted by each user (sorry, customer).  There’s a few more twist ands turns, but you get the idea.

On top of that, they send a very nice slim-jim monthly magazine to all members, which if you think about it is an super-targeted local ad vehicle for these service shops.  I talked to one guy I hired (re-modeler) who said 1 year of advertising in that Angie’s List mag generated more closed sales for him than 5 years in the Yellow Pages – and a year costs 1/20 of what an annual Yellow Page ad costs for the same size.  Yikes. 

That’s display advertising done right.  All you have to do is look up the company in the Angie’s magazine ad on Angie’s List.  The companies with Ratings of “A” and lots of glowing testimonials say their magazine ads work like gangbusters.  I imagine companies with “C” ratings and UGC horror stories say their magazine ads suck.

Go figure.

Then the companies who fall to a “C” get barred from advertising in the main part of the magazine any more due to poor ratings on the list.  New companies not on the list can attract Attention to themselves by advertising in the back “classifieds” section, in hopes of getting “A” ratings and the opportunity to advertise tin the main part of the mag.

Self-policing, continuous quality improvement.  The Attention improves in quality over time.  Sure, “ratings” are very e-Bay-like.  But the online / offline approach to maximizing Marketing Productivity for all sides is fully integrated and just very smart Marketing, they are working the model to full potential.

This community, though small by MySpace standards (that is, if all those MySpace members are active), has a very valuable, tangible reason to be working together on this shared database.  And because they put so much value on this relationship (they pay to participate), there is a lot of value in the relationship. 

You see this same pattern time and time again in display media; the more people are willing to pay for the content surrounding the media, the more valuable advertising in the media is.  It’s that fashion magazine thing again, the ads are part of the content

We know how much people are willing to pay for a membership to MySpace or FaceBook…

Offline Front End

Moms Tampa Bay is a very basic chat board idea – mothers in the Tampa Bay, FL area post questions and provide answers on family and child care issues.  It was built by a local TV station and soft launched in May of 2007, currently at 2700 members or so.  Just recently, they have started heavier promotion of the board on the TV station itself.

Now, it’s not hard to understand the display advertising opportunities on a site like this, this display model is a proven one because the members have well-defined interests and needs.  They’re paying Attention.  The fact they are all local people drives further targeting capability and some unique social opportunities.

For example, the TV station is going to launch an “issues show” based on the topics discussed in the community, with members from the community as the talent.  This kind of exposure is sure to cement the relationships and drive further participation.  YouTube local on real broadcast TV. 

“Mabel, I could be a staaahhhh…”

The station / members could do all kind of things to expand on this core idea – publish guidebooks, produce educational videos, hold events – all of it sure to attract advertising dollars. 

No brainer for many categories.

Now, TV is not known for being very good at one-to-one, and this board is far from perfect.  There are risks the station could screw this up by pushing the group too hard or far, and I’d bet they would benefit from an experienced online community manager / more resources.  But they seem to be doing pretty well at it so far, and to me, it’s quite ironic to see the old broadcast model going vertical using online, just as the onliners are trying to do broadcast…

Both sides can’t be right.  My bet is the media itself defines what you can so with it successfully, and you can’t simply decide to “break the rules” and get the result you want.  FaceBook and MySpace are devoted to people who want to create a free media platform for themselves.  Just like GeoCities and Tripod. 

With similar results on the display ad side.

I want to make it clear I’m not dumping on MySpace or FaceBook as being “useful” or even essential to certain groups of people for specific purposes.  What I am saying is while the utility to the user might be extremely high, the value of the space surrounding this content is quite low for display advertising purposes.

Other than display ads targeted to the specific needs of people in that group with those media platform goals, there is no reason to believe general display advertising will ever be successful in that environment. 

There’s No Attention to spare.

2 thoughts on ““Social Media” that Works

  1. Interesting suggestions. Personally, I find the likes of MySpace and Facebook to be too hit and miss for this type of advertising. Targeting, as always, is the key – something Facebook, at present, doesn’t seem to understand.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    What continues to baffle me about Social is why they would rely on an old media model (display ads) when there is so much more they could do that would be “in-line”, as opposed to counter to, the way these networks work and flow. PPC ads, for example, are very much in-line with the work flow and intent of the user. That’s why they work so well.

    For a supposed group of “brilliant” and “ground-breaking” folks, this attitude is pretty hard to swallow. Yet it’s still “build it and they will come”.

    Reminds me of the whole “hits” era, really.

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